Born Harold Ray Ragsdale, the Grammy-winning songwriter, producer, arranger, and performer known as Ray Stevens is regarded as one of the most talented forces in country music. Though often thought of as a funnyman who writes hilarious and topical songs, he also wrote music recorded by Brook Benton, Dierks Bentley, Sammy Davis, Jr., and many others. On Voices in the Hall, he recounts his rise from Georgia boy to international star.
Peter on Episode 8: Ray Stevens
A Georgia boy raised on rock & roll, rhythm and blues, country music, and Atlanta Crackers baseball, Ray Stevens possesses a towering wit, atypical musicality, and a work ethic that drives him to make and market music at a time in life when his above-ground contemporaries favor rocking chairs to stages.
As a teen, Stevens was part of an Atlanta music-making scene that included Country Music Hall of Fame member Jerry Reed, and when he moved to Nashville he did so with the promise that he’d be allowed to record his own material and to make money playing on sessions for others. He did all of that, and much more, winning Grammy awards for performing and arranging, writing the standard “Everything is Beautiful,” recording with stars including Elvis Presley, and forging a reputation as one of Nashville’s singular musical talents.
Stevens is also a funny man. He could have been a comic, but instead chose to use his humor in service to songs that have elicited decades of chuckles and guffaws. He is a music video pioneer who envisioned ways to bring his funny stuff to small-screen fruition, and who used television advertising to bring melodic tales of a crazy squirrel, a Shriners’ convention, a swift streaker, and a watchful Santa into living rooms all over the country.
Sometimes the funny stuff obscures Stevens’s serious skills as a musician, but Stevens doesn’t seem to mind. He figures music as entertainment, figures himself as an entertainer, and figures he’s doing his job when folks are entertained.
At this point, he’s done his job so well and so long that he’s set to enter the Country Music Hall of Fame as a member of the Hall’s Class of 2019, alongside record executive Jerry Bradley and superstar duo Brooks & Dunn. In this edition of Voices in the Hall, Stevens talks about his path to country music’s rainbow’s end.
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